‘The Cave Of Adullam’s Lawrence Fishburne & Jason Wilson Discuss The Story Of How They Connected To Make Create The Documentary: Q&A

The Laurence Fishburne-produced and Lauren Checkoway-directed documentary, Cave of Adullam, is a love letter to masculine vulnerability. Cave leader Jason Wilson uses a quote from Frederick Douglas for reference, “It’s easier to raise boys than repair broken men.” Through martial arts, meditation, discipline, and emotional expression, he’s helping the young men of Detroit create a new way of living beyond the temptations of crime and gang culture.

His teachings encourage young men to cry, be upset, and be okay with expressing their feelings, which forgoes the idea that Black men must bottle up their feelings because it’s not what men do. The film follows four young men as Wilson reprograms their understanding of masculinity and gives them problem-solving tools to break the generational trauma of manhood.

Deadline spoke with Fishburne and Wilson about their joint endeavor and why helping young Black boys is crucial, and how the training helps cultivate a brighter future for themselves in a society that forces Black children to grow up too fast.

DEADLINE: How did you [Fishburne] Jason and director Lauren Checkoway come together for Cave of Adullam

FISHBURNE: It’s interesting because I think my relationship with Jason started well before I met him. He has a relationship with my work and found some of the work that I have done useful for what he’s doing. 

WILSON: I’ve been a fan of Laurence forever, you know, especially Boyz n the Hood, and I saw him as a father figure. However, when he played Morpheus in The Matrix, I saw the ultimate father figure. Part of the Cave’s curriculum is based on the philosophies in the film. Like Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), I had to revisit my trauma of growing up with a verbally abrasive father.

We had a video that went viral on YouTube called breaking through emotional barriers in 2016. When it went viral, I was contacted by three film producers, one of which was Roy Bank. He stayed in touch over the years, and I decided to move forward with him. Fast forward, and Laurence sees the sizzle reel. 

FISHBURNE: Roy brought Jason to our attention, told us about him, his program, his ideas, and what he was doing, and showed us a little bit of a sizzle reel. This is right in line with our mission and the kind of lives that we want to illuminate. 

DEADLINE: Why was it important to you to create a space like The Cave of Adullam

WILSON: The Cave was born of my desire for a man or a father figure to train me in the ways of being a man. Looking for someone who wouldn’t condemn me if I felt weak, or someone who would encourage me and affirm me. Even today, a lot of young boys are deceived by misleading mantras, like “no pain, no gain,” and “big boys don’t cry.” It was imperative for me to create a space where boys could feel safe, where they can really express what’s going on, their toxic thoughts, and emotional wounds before they do something detrimental. I incorporated martial arts because it gave me an alternative to an opportunity to really express what was going on without, you know, jeopardizing my future. It helped me release the anger that I felt from my father, not really being active in my life.

DEADLINE: You’re creating a new way for young men to process that isn’t someone yelling in their face or someone screaming at them to get it together. 

WILSON: There were a lot of boot camp programs that began to fail at an alarming rate. I participated in about three of them before realizing you can’t scare a boy straight. Black boys in Detroit didn’t need that. They need healing. I went from just martial arts and mentoring to start incorporating therapy and opportunities for them to meditate and discuss what’s going on internally.

DEADLINE: Women play a big role in your process. Not only do you (Jason) present as a father figure, but you also honor the mothers as well. Can you expand on that?  

WILSON: We help many single-parent homes where women are the sole provider, but there is a mix. We have two single fathers who enrolled their sons in the Cave. What we try to do is allow mothers to be nurturers. Look, I’m a great nurturer, but I can’t match the nurturing love of my wife– even on my best day. So often when you’re dealing with a boy, and he is at that pivotal stage of transitioning into manhood, there’s a lot of rebellion in arguing between the mother and son. When they come to me, they allow me to implement the discipline and the encouragement that he needs from a father figure.

DEADLINE: This film about Black boys is directed by Lauren Checkoway, a white woman. There is always a question of what makes her the best candidate to chronicle Black lives. What was the deciding factor in choosing Lauren to direct Cave of Adullam

FISHBURNE: Lauren was chosen because she’s a brilliant documentarian. She has a cinematic sensitivity and a doctor’s bedside manner.’ She’s also good at entering someone’s private space as an observer, and allows things to manifest naturally. Lauren doesn’t impose her personality or her energy onto anything. It boils down to her humanity and her ability to see the humanity in all of the subjects that she has shot as a documentarian. And that’s the reason why we chose her. 

DEADLINE: The principles you teach in the Cave have universal sensibilities. Do you think this documentary can be used as a lesson for boys worldwide? And is there a plan to expand the cave behind the city of Detroit?

WILSON: On my Instagram, I would say over 70 percent of the direct messages I received are from men of different ethnic backgrounds. I wrote a book in 2019 called Cry Like A Man. I thought this emotional incarceration was a Black thing until I started receiving calls and letters from men all over the world saying that they’re tired of suppressing their emotions and tired of toxic masculinity. Men are tired of holding onto trauma. It’s ruining their lives and their families. 

This is not just a Black boy issue, it’s a male issue. For so long, we’ve allowed ourselves to be confined to the world’s definition of being a man that we don’t even know how to be one. So many boys and men want to break free, want to be human, and want to be more than masculine. The Cave of Adullam documentary will not only show Boys how to express themselves but will teach them to be better fathers, husbands, and leaders in society.

As for expansion, resources play a significant role. We have the curriculum. It’s just the financial aspect that needs to come together. I created a space in Detroit to work out the kinks and set up the framework for the program so it can eventually sustain itself on a larger scale. But we also have a podcast studio where we can do virtual training if you can’t even make it to the academy. That’s a start. 

DEADLINE: If the two of you could go back and talk to your 14-year-old selves, what advice would you give them, knowing what you know now? 

FISHBURNE: Sit your butt down and stop all that foolishness!

WILSON: I would say, “Jason, you’re good enough.”

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